(TOPLINE: Lovett “Cid” Chambers has been sentenced to 11 1/2 years for the shooting death of Travis Hood; as-it-happened coverage below)
2 PM: We are at the King County Courthouse, where the criminal-court judges preside over sentencings on Friday afternoons. This afternoon in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle, the sentencing hearing is beginning for Lovett “Cid” Chambers, the 69-year-old Gatewood man (new photo from today at right) found guilty of manslaughter for the January 2012 shooting of 36-year-old Travis Hood (left) outside Morgan Junction Park. We covered every day of the six weeks of testimony in his trial (coverage links here), concluding April 8th with the jury’s verdict. According to a court document filed this week, prosecutors recommend a 13 1/2-year sentence (162 months) including the five mandatory years for use of a gun, with credit for time served (almost 2 1/2 years so far, since the night of the shooting). More than 25 people are in court for the hearing; we will add updates as the proceedings unfold. Two are holding up signs that say “No Jail for Self-Defense.”
(At tables, from left: prosecutors Margaret Nave & Mari Isaacson, SPD Det. Tim DeVore, defense lawyers Lauren McLane & Ben Goldsmith flanking Lovett Chambers)
Chambers is in jail orange – during the trial, he wore street clothes. Defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith begins by asking Judge Doyle to allow Chambers to be unshackled, and she grants the request. A brief moment of tension ensues – the deputies say they can’t do that without consulting a supervisor; they make a call, and say they are cleared.
2:46 PM: We are starting the sentencing coverage itself here – our chronicling of the previous 45 minutes of argument over whether to grant a new trial (a motion just denied by the judge) is now below the jump. The judge notes that she has received many, many letters in support of Chambers – she says she doesn’t believe she’s ever received so many letters in any case.
Prosecutor “Maggie” Nave speaks first, noting that Chambers spent most of 1966 through 1989 in prison for several major crimes, but they don’t count here for various reasons, so his “offender score is 0,” meaning a relatively light sentence, aside from the mandatory 5 years for use of a firearm.
As noted above, she says the state is asking for “high end of standard sentence,” 102 months for the manslaughter conviction, as “the defendant recklessly fired a .45-caliber handgun at the victim … repeatedly … three shots … It’s very likely the first shot was not a fatal shot … if the defendant had stopped at one shot, it’s likely Michael “Travis” Hood would be here today. … The defendant’s actions in this case were extremely reckless” even, she says, if you believe the defendant’s self-defense contention.
“The first thing is that he retrieved his handgun from (his car) … a handgun that he, a convicted felon, was not allowed to possess … (The second thing) is that he followed (the victim and his friend) up the street … when he had so many other options,” such as running into one of the two nearby bars, made a call for help, run down the street in the opposite direction. “He didn’t do any of those things.” And third, “he shot Travis repeatedly – if he had just stopped shooting, things would have been different. And (finally), he did this while (extremely drunk).” (Almost three times the legal limit, it was noted early in the trial.)
She says the facts of a case cited by the defense as grounds for a light sentence are not comparable to this one. She also says the defense is wrong to contend that a standard sentence would be “overly harsh” because of Chambers’ age and because he has been a law-abiding member of the community since the late ’80s. She acknowledges the circumstances the night of the shooting were “complicated.” Regarding the defendant having “precious few years when he gets out” even if only sentenced to 5 years, she says she wants to say on the record that Travis Hood “has no good years left,” and might have had 40 years left if he had not been shot dead. “He has a friend, a mother, a child … his mother and friends had to sit here in court day after die and endure the defense (portraying him as) a racist, violent person.”
3:04 PM: Brenda Hood, Travis’s mother, reads a letter from his daughter, Destiny Williams, 12 when he was killed. It speaks of crying, of counseling, of depression: “I miss my dad with all my heart. I dream about him a lot. I wake up crying. My world was taken away, and it doesn’t seem like anyone cares.” The letter speaks of never seeing her dad again, of not being able to have him walk her down the aisle someday. Brenda Hood now says that she bought her own plane ticket to Seattle twice and also paid tens of thousands for medical and funeral costs for her son. “While Travis won’t be back in this world, I would like to see justice for him. … I’d like to say the defendant showed no remorse throughout the whole trial … didn’t even show any sadness that the shooting had taken place.” She says she won’t forgive him – “only God can forgive him” – that she hopes he dies in jail and “rot(s) in hell.”
Next, Jodie Davis, a friend of Travis Hood’s, who along with the victim’s mother was in court daily throughout the trial.
She shows a photo of him as he prepared to leave Jacksonville for Seattle, and points out he was “the only white person in the photo.” Through tears, she said she thought that Seattle would be a great place for him, and she says she still has no idea what happened that night, and expresses her sadness that she will never see him again. At 3:11 pm, the judge calls for the afternoon recess. The hearing should reconvene by 3:30 pm.
3:29 PM, HEARING RESUMES: “The state wants Mr. Chambers to die in prison for defending himself,” opens defense lawyer Goldsmith. He gets to the point of the N word – and the variant on it that Hood’s friend Davis had used before the break, saying that it was just the way – as Hood’s friend Jamie Vause had testified during the trial – they referred to each other. Goldsmith contends that in any variant, if used by a white person, it is a slur against an African-American person, and a declaration that their life has no value. So, he says, when those words were used by Hood and Vause that night, “why wouldn’t Mr. Chambers panic? … Lord help any of us faced with a threat to their life and doesn’t behave the way (prosecutors) think they should.” He says the law allows an exceptional (low) sentence in this case. “Mr. Chambers is a kind, gentle, peaceful person, drunk or sober,” he says testimony showed. He speaks of Mr. Chambers’ wife Sara Chambers (who is here today) saying he “gets silly” when intoxicated. Even a prosecution witness, he says, described Chambers as “relaxed” that night. “He had love, friends, family, home, work, anything anybody could ever want. He had a gun that he wasn’t allowed to have. But in the two decades that he had it, he never pulled that gun in anger … Mr. Chambers told the court what happened, exactly what he was thinking, feeling, and he was consistent throughout.”
Goldsmith said even the prosecution witnesses did not describe Chambers’ actions as “following” them. He says even prosecution witness Vause’s description supports that Chambers was acting in self-defense – jumping back, shots close in time, “presence of a deadly weapon (shovel) in Mr. Hood’s hands … There’s no question that Mr. Chambers was in a fight for his life that night.”
Judge Doyle asks, “… when the jury rejected the self-defense theory,” how could the judge take that into account in sentencing?
Goldsmith says the court is entitled to make its sentencing decision separate from what was proven to the jury, and says that much of the testimony corroborated that Chambers could have and did perceive that he was in danger. But, he said, “I’m not asking the court to give him a significant sentence downward based on … that he is a good and peaceful person …” and again mentions that the court received letters of support from people who have known Chambers for “not only years, but decades.” He mentions a letter from someone whom Mr. Chambers helped deal with a threat, and said that he offered to that person that he would “help (her) work with police and courts.”
Regarding prosecutor’s Nave suggestion that he should have run away or could have taken some other action, Goldsmith mentions it happened within seconds, another sign it wasn’t reckless. Regarding his drunkenness, “it was tantamount to him being drunk in his own living room” because it was someplace he had been going for years. Finally “if nothing else, this case has demonstrated to me the living value of my talking because frankly I can’t imagine a world in which Mr. Chambers should have been convicted, and when I talk to people about this case, they are constantly shocked that he was convicted. .. There is not much I can do for Mr. Chambers but the law allows this court to do what is right.”
Chambers’ wife Sara now is coming up to speak.
“I’ve been married to him for more than 22 years. He’s always been a kind and gentle husband … has many friends .. I’ve seen him sober, I’ve seen him drunk, I’ve seen him happy and sad, and consistently he is an even-tempered man who thinks of other people as much as he thinks of himself …” He would only do something like this if he feels his life is threatened, she concludes.
Chambers himself declines the chance to speak.
Judge Doyle (left): “I don’t think this is an appropriate case for a sentence below the standard range.”
She says that his 20 years of law-abiding community life is not a criteria for that. She acknowledges the difficulty of the case and testimony – “imperfect self-defense.” She recaps the different versions of that January night’s events, told by Jamie Vause and by Lovett Chambers.
“It’s clear the jury didn’t believe the self-defense theory and … found him guilty of manslaughter, apparently finding that he recklessly caused the death of Mr. Hood. What wasn’t disputed was that Mr. Chambers had a .20 blood alcohol content many hours after (the shooting) … it may be that he doesn’t remember much of what happened.” She continues recapping what testimony said led up to “Mr. Hood picking up the shovel, Mr. Chambers shooting him three times. There really was no sensible explanation about why (he) would follow Mr. Hood and Mr. Vause up to the truck. That was the big gap. Why did he do that?” So, she said, she did not find a reason to impose a sentence below the 78 to 102-month standard range. “I do however find this an appropriate case for the bottom of the standard range and for all those same reasons – there was a very sharp division in what happened.”
3:54 PM: So, she summarizes, based on everything she’s heard, “the court thinks it’s appropriate to impose the bottom of the standard range – that’s 78 months.” And she notes there is no discretion in the additional 60-month firearm enhancement. 138 months total, with credit for time served (he has been in jail since shortly after the shooting 2 1/2 years ago).
Judge Doyle also orders the standard no-contact orders for witnesses and 36 months of community custody (probation); there also will be a restitution hearing at some point. Goldsmith asks for an “appeal bond” of $50,000. Judge Doyle says she would rather make that decision at another date, given that it’s already 4 pm. Nave says another hearing on a motion is pending and so they don’t want Chambers sent to state prison until that hearing, and the “appeal bond” hearing, can be held. The hearing is set for 8:30 am next Wednesday (June 18th).
We recorded video of the hearing and will upload upon return to HQ, adding here later tonight, along with more photos from the hearing.
(Added late Friday/early Saturday – the sentencing video in 2 parts, before and after the 3:11 pm break)
BELOW: THE FIRST 45 MINUTES OF THE HEARING, THE (DENIED) ‘NEW-TRIAL’ MOTION:
FROM 2:05-2:45 PM: First there is discussion regarding Goldsmith’s motion for a new trial, as previously reported here. “This is not an everyday case,” he says. “…There is no doubt that race is at the core of this case. … These are all arguments that were heard by a jury of 11 white people and 1 person from Bangla Desh who is an executive at Microsoft.” He notes that racism was brought up by both sides – defense and prosecution. “Mr. Chambers wasn’t afforded the opportunity to have his case judged (through diverse perspectives).” He brings up a study showing that racial makeup of the pool of potential jurors can have an effect on trials’ outcomes, and notes that “King County has had a problem with” (racial makeup of jury pools).
“How can the court (grant a new trial) without some evidence connecting (the racial makeup of the jury) to the (trial evidence)?” asks Judge Doyle. She cites a specific court rule. Goldsmith says that justice was not done because the jury pool “was not reflective of the demographics of King County. … What this court has before us is that a case where, it’s evidence to anybody paying attention, that race matters …” He also alleges prosecutorial misconduct in closing arguments, bringing up a point he challenged toward trial’s end, that they suggested that Chambers reacted out of anger at being called a racist name, though evidence had shown that “he always responds (to such insults) by turning the other cheek.” He contends it was misconduct because of “burden-shifting” and also that prosecutors were wrong to infer that the victim was acting in self-defense – the contention that the defense made about their client. “The only evidence … is that a 67-year-old man walked past (Hood) at some point.” But, Judge Doyle countered, it was proven that, at the time Hood picked up a shovel and brandished it, Chambers was a few feet away with a loaded gun. After Goldsmith’s response, she noted it was up to the jury to decide from the evidence who had threatened who first. His final contention is that the jury was improperly instructed regarding how they could lawfully reach a verdict of manslaughter (at the time the trial started, he was charged of second-degree murder). “It should have been a hung jury,” he contended.
2:30 PM: Judge Doyle says that the racial makeup of the juror pool is NOT grounds for a new trial. She said the defense was given “wide latitude” for questioning during voir dire – interviewing of jurors – especially because it was clear that the jury pool was non-diverse. She also says that because it was clear “that race was a big issue” in the case, she allowed some evidence against which the state had argued strenuously. “In context of the evidence in this case, the court did everything it could to provide your client with a fair trial … granting almost every motion that the defense made.”
Now the lead prosecuting attorney Margaret “Maggie” Nave is responding. “There were no errors made in closing arguments.” Regarding her suggestion that Chambers might have been angry when called the “N” word, she said it was a reasonable inference because of how offensive that word is to African-Americans, but she said she never suggested that it would be a trigger for violence. Their witnesses, in fact, said they never used a racial epithet – it was defense witnesses who made the claim. However, she goes on to contend, just because a person has reacted one way to something in the past, doesn’t rule out a different reaction. “Everything I argued was tied to the evidence. .. This case, yes, absolutely it had to do with race. … but just because it had to do with race does not mean the state argued that just because the defendant is African-American, that he behaved a particular way that night.” She says “the critical issue in this case … (was) what Travis was doing when he picked up the shovel.” She said he was quoted as saying “defensive words” – “Back off” – and that was something she noted, not saying he acted in self-defense. Finally, she denies the jury was not instructed properly.
Judge Doyle then announces she will deny the request for a new trial, on all argued grounds, saying she finds the verdict was in accord with the law, and noting that since the jury was out “a considerable amount of time” – three full days – they clearly considered all the evidence. She also does not believe that “as unfortunate as (the jury pool makeup was),” the law does not allow the granting of a new trial on those grounds.
(Sentencing ensues – see above, picking up at 2:46 PM)